Soap Box: Gareth Elliott, account manager, Insight Public Affairs

What is the Government's aviation strategy? Early on it stated that there would be no expansion in the South East, yet the idea that high speed rail would act as a silver bullet, releasing capacity at the UK's main airports, has fallen flat amid a howl of anti-HS2 protesters.

Gareth Elliott, account manager, Insight Public Affairs
Gareth Elliott, account manager, Insight Public Affairs

Its growth strategy of encouraging manufacturing exports is hampered by its own decision to block further expansion, severely limiting the UK's access to target markets. The 'better, not bigger' approach hasn't released any significant additional capacity, and sends a signal to the rest of the world that the UK is closed for business.

The delay of the much anticipated aviation strategy will compound these problems. Yet, all is not lost. There has been a subtle shift in government language. In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor stated that 'we will explore all the options for maintaining the UK's aviation hub status'.

And ahead of the Budget, the Prime Minister spoke of 'taking tough decisions' including the need to consider the UK's only hub airport. At the Budget, the Chancellor stated we 'must confront the lack of airport capacity in the South East'.

This is a big shift from the 'no expansion' policy. While the Government maintains opposition to a third runway, the practicalities and timing of any new airport or expansion of others, and the fact that the UK's only hub airport is running at 99.2 per cent capacity, means that this question will need to be revisited.

The UK cannot wait another 30 years to connect itself into a rapidly shifting world economy. The Government is going to need to make some tough and politically unpopular decisions, but will the Government have the political will in the summer to prioritise the nation's long-term interests or will its aviation strategy simply be a crash landing?

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